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Friday, April 30, 2021

Unprecedented! If there’s one thing we can agree on, it’s that we are living in unprecedented times. And it’s all because of the pandemic. As a historian, I tend to be skeptical of that description. I would argue that we have had it all before: widespread disease, bitter political conflict, economic uncertainty, you name it. But someone else took that angle a few days ago in a Politico article comparing these times to the post Civil War period (see link below–it’s interesting). So with the historical front covered and in no particular order, let’s look at what else is unprecedented this week.

  • Unprecedented number of vaccinations: Nature reports that the number of vaccinations administered has crossed the one billion mark. This is about 7.3 % of the world’s population vaccinated in four months. Inequality is a major concern both for humanitarian reasons and to block the development of new variants which pop up in hot spots. But, as WHO’s chief scientist pointed out, just to get this far is “unprecedented.”
  • Unprecedented baby bust: Early in the pandemic era people joked that lockdowns could trigger a baby boom in 2021. But that’s not happening. The decline in birthrate began in the Great Financial Crisis of 2008 and the pandemic, with its economic uncertainty and social distancing, has made it worse. Laura Lindberg, the author of a study early in the pandemic, called the impact of COVID on birthrates “unprecedented.” (see study below).
Births and Birth rates 1970-2019, http://www.cdc.gov:
The decline didn’t start with the pandemic
  • Unprecedented housing market: “This is unprecedented,” says Jeff Tucker of Zillow. Home values are rising while rental prices fall. For the steep increase in housing prices, blame the short supply aided by low interest rates and people who find if they can work from home then home can be anywhere. If young families or retired couples were thinking of upsizing or downsizing, they have moved their plans up a few years and decided that now is the time. At the same time, many workers in the cities have been laid off. With no income to pay the rent, many have relocated, moving in with family or finding work elsewhere.
  • Unprecedented animal adoptions: The SPCA Albrecht Center (see Aiken Standard below) tells of a year where implementation of CDC standards and loss of income from their thrift store brought hardships and yet during the pandemic over 95% of the animals they took in found good homes. Plus many people from the area were able to volunteer to help care for the animals and free up staff for the additional sanitation measures that were required. “An Unprecedented Year in Animal Welfare,” reads the headline.
  • Unprecedented college experience: An article from Boston University reports that students experienced the pandemic year in unexpected ways, some finding the switch to virtual classes as an opportunity for growth and independence. Perhaps this year will become a bonding experience for the generation of college students who had to adjust to it.
  • And the winner is . . . We can’t end without mentioning the unprecedented year for movies and the Oscars without an audience. New artists and international artists are represented in greater numbers this year and the changes in the way Oscar nominees are seen and selected sounds like a change for the better.

Today’s Notable Headlines

“The Forgotten Precedent for Our ‘Unprecedented’ Political Insanity,” Politico, April 24, 2021. https://www.politico.com/news/magazine/2021/04/24/forgotten-precedent-unprecedented-politics-age-of-acrimony-484072

“‘Unprecedented achievement’: who received the first billion COVID vaccinations?” Nature, April 29, 2020. https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-01136-2

“The COVID baby boom is looking more like a baby bust,” CBS News, March 3, 2021. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/baby-bust-declining-birth-rate-covid-pandemic/

“‘This Is Unprecedented’: Why America’s Housing Market Has Never Been Weirder,” The Atlantic, March 5, 2021. https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2021/03/why-are-housing-prices-and-rents-down/618212/

“ANIMAL CONNECTION: An unprecedented year in animal welfare.” Aiken Standard, South Carolina, April 26, 2021. https://www.postandcourier.com/aikenstandard/lifestyle/animal-connection-an-unprecedented-year-in-animal-welfare/article_abdd1e46-a6d3-11eb-b053-db5c387727a9.html

“Class of 2021 reflects on unprecedented college journey,” The Daily Free Press, Boston University, April 29, 2021. https://dailyfreepress.com/2021/04/29/class-of-2021-reflects-on-unprecedented-college-journey/

“Oscar Voters Recognize First-Timers and Hollywood Outsiders in Unprecedented Year,” The Hollywood Reporter, April 19, 2021. https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/oscar-voters-recognize-first-timers-and-hollywood-outsiders-in-unprecedented-year

Additional Sources:

“Early Impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic: Findings from the 2020 Guttmacher Survey of Reproductive Health Experiences,” Guttmacher Institute, June 2020, Laura D. Lindberg, et. al. https://www.guttmacher.org/report/early-impacts-covid-19-pandemic-findings-2020-guttmacher-survey-reproductive-health

Why am I doing this?

The coronavirus pandemic will be indelibly written on our memories just as the Great Depression or the Battle of Britain left their mark on past generations. I intend to journal the pandemic experience from three perspectives: as a retired medical technologist, as a historian (Ph.D., 2014), and an ordinary person living through an extraordinary world crisis.

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